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The Santa Cruz Permit Coordination Program

The Santa Cruz County Partners in Restoration (PIR) permit coordination program is an expanded version of our watershed-based PIR model aimed at supporting local farmers, ranchers, and landowners who want to improve water quality and wildlife habitat on their lands in Santa Cruz County.

The Santa Cruz County PIR program incorporates erosion control and fisheries habitat enhancement practices making it easier for the agricultural and rural community in Santa Cruz County to participate in implementing these types of voluntary conservation projects.

Expanding PIR Countywide in Santa Cruz

With funding from the California Coastal Conservancy, U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County, Sustainable Conservation is working with the NRCS and the Santa Cruz County Resource Conservation District (SCCRCD) to replicate the PIR model on a countywide scale in Santa Cruz. After having implemented watershed-scale PIR programs in the Elkhorn Slough and Salinas River watersheds in Monterey County, Navarro River watershed in Mendocino County, and Morro Bay watersheds in San Luis Obispo County, Sustainable Conservation and our partners at the NRCS and SCCRCD felt that an expanded, countywide approach made sense in Santa Cruz.

The following factors made the countywide approach the best option for Santa Cruz:

  • It takes the same amount of time and resources to set up the program for 45,000 acres as it does for 1.6 million acres as long as the resource conditions are similar across the landscapes.
  • Many of the regulatory agencies with jurisdiction over the Santa Cruz project are familiar and comfortable with PIR because of their experience with our work in the Elkhorn Slough and Salinas River watersheds in Monterey County.
  • County policies and ordinances that affect conservation work in Santa Cruz apply to all watersheds within the County boundaries.
  • Watershed planning efforts would benefit by the countywide permit coordination program because many of the recommended projects contained in these plans may be carried out under the permit coordination program with willing landowners.

Permit Coordination: Putting the Pieces Together in Santa Cruz

Coordinated watershed planning efforts are currently underway throughout Santa Cruz County and are aimed at addressing many of the resource concerns identified in the County's watersheds. By simplifying the complex regulatory review process for landowners, the Santa Cruz project will result in a significant added value both in terms of the number and the quality of the conservation projects implemented.

The conservation practices covered under the permit coordination program would be effective in reducing the amount of sediment and associated pollutants entering the waterways in Santa Cruz County and improve the quality of aquatic and riparian habitats. The NRCS and the SCCRCD have established the relationships with the community crucial to the success of these types of voluntary conservation programs. The NRCS has the expertise and funding to carry out these practices, and more importantly, the federal mandate to protect natural resources by working with private landowners.

Regulatory Partners

Local, state, and federal regulatory agencies and staff are contributing significant time and energy to make this program happen. The agencies working to develop this innovative "one-stop permit shopping" program for Santa Cruz County are the County of Santa Cruz, the California Department of Fish and Game, the California Coastal Commission, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The continued participation of these partners is critical to the success of the Santa Cruz project.

Santa Cruz County Resources

With its redwood forests, farmlands, mountains, and coastal terraces, Santa Cruz has some of the most diverse habitats in California. The diverse landscapes characteristic of Santa Cruz County provide habitat for an abundance of protected species. Specifically, the County's creeks and streams provide habitat for the federally protected steelhead and coho salmon. Riparian vegetation along many of these streams also serves as an important migration corridor for the California red-legged frog. Upland areas in Santa Cruz County provide refuge for other species such as the California tiger salamander and the Santa Cruz long-toed salamander. The County is a hotspot for rare, threatened, and endangered species. As a result, the complexity of the regulatory review requirements associated with restoration projects and conservation work in Santa Cruz County is amplified.

Problems facing Santa Cruz County Watersheds

The steep terrain, highly erosive soils, and high rainfall levels characteristic of Santa Cruz County make sedimentation a significant threat to water quality in the County's watersheds. Twenty of the County's waterways are listed as "impaired" under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act for sediment related problems, nutrients, and pathogens. The Regional Board has identified sediment, a non-point source pollutant, as resulting mainly from activities such as farming, real estate development, and road construction. Many of these activities occur on private lands.

Road building is a common and often dominant theme in land use disturbance in Santa Cruz County, and it is identified as a principal source of sediment in many of its watersheds. Sedimentation reduces water quality and directly impairs the spawning and rearing success of salmonids, including the protected coho salmon and steelhead trout populations present in many of Santa Cruz County waterways. Fine sediment accumulates in pools and in riffles of creeks and waterways and can cause gravel to become embedded or cemented making spawning difficult for these species.

In addition to sedimentation, polluted runoff further degrades water quality. Furthermore, in-stream obstacles such as poorly sized culverts associated with road crossings make it difficult for the migrating coho and steelhead to make their way up and down stream.

Working Together to Create Solutions

The Santa Cruz County PIR project represents an important test for permit coordination on a larger scale. Many landowners, government agencies, and environmental groups are interested in promoting sustainable practices for resource management in Santa Cruz County, but recognize the difficulty in obtaining the necessary permits. The challenges facing the landowners and the communities require a concerted effort by public and private groups with the resources and desire to assist those who are trying to get conservation work done in the County.